Prescription for disaster
by Kelvin Wade
As I lay on the sidewalk, I didn’t know how badly I’d been injured. It happened so quickly. I remembered casually standing in the car doorway reaching in to release the parking brake unaware that the car was in reverse. Immediately the van began rolling down the driveway with my 3 year old grandson in his car seat in the back and my 11 year old granddaughter Lauryn in the front seat.
I’d tried to stop the vehicle grabbing it, trying to plant my feet, to summon up some Herculean strength to keep the car from rolling out into the street out of my control. But I’m not the Hulk. We were in the street now with the car still rolling.
“Lauryn, hit the brake!” I called.
In a flash, my granddaughter had unbelted her seatbelt and reached down to the floor. I saw her hand press the accelerator. How does a 10 year old know which is the brake? I thought I was dead.
The car door knocked me over a parked car and I landed hard on the sidewalk with the bottom of the car door slashing my leg open. The van rolled to a halt in my across the street neighbor’s front yard. While I thought I came away from that experience with road rash, bruises and stitches, I also limped away with chronic back pain.
I’ve been on practically every NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) there is with little success. Last year, my primary care physician sent me to a pain specialist who put me on a low dose of morphine supplemented with Vicodin. I was nervous about being put on such a strong painkiller at first for fear of becoming dependent.
While, as of this writing, we don’t know what killed singer Whitney Houston, but alcohol and drugs are suspected. She would be the latest in a long line of notable people who’ve lost their lives to prescription drugs and or alcohol. Prescription drugs took the lives of Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Dorothy Dandridge, Jimi Hendriz, Elvis Presley, Anna Nicole Smith, Heath Ledger and Brittany Murphy among others. Of course, pop icon Michael Jackson lost his life from abuse of prescription medication.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, more people die from prescription painkillers than cocaine and heroin combined. Deaths from painkillers have tripled in the last decade. And the government says five million Americans abuse painkillers every month.
But for my purposes here, I’m not writing about the people who are doctor-shopping or buying prescription drugs off the street to get high. I’m talking about those of us who legitimately take pain medication and anti-anxiety pills. It’s surprisingly easy for regulated drug use to spiral out of control.
Many insurance companies would rather pay for drugs than physical therapy which could help some sufferers of chronic pain. Pills are easier.
One of the reasons for this alarming increase in deaths is there’s a false sense of security with prescription drugs. They’re prescribed by doctors and we trust their expertise. When I’m taking Vicodin on top of morphine, I feel confident because I’m under the care of two doctors. But I stay alert to things like drug interactions.
Also, over time, patients develop a tolerance for narcotics. Those few pills aren’t as effective anymore. I’ve noticed that and immediately talked with my pain specialist about it. We’re monitoring it.
Consider the case of R&B singer Gerald LeVert. He was prescribed Vicodin and Percocet to deal with chronic pain from a shoulder problem and surgery on a severed Achilles tendon. He was also on the anti-anxiety medication Xanax. Feeling under the weather, he took some over the counter antihistamines and went to bed on November 9, 2006. He never woke up.
One can see how taking prescription medications, having wine with dinner or drinks watching a ballgame and then popping a couple of Benadryls could land a person in trouble. I know people who take their meds with wine regularly.
Prescription drugs are ground zero in the nation’s drug problem. For those of us who rely on them, they’re a godsend. They enable us to live relatively normal lives. But we have to remember that just because we’re not snorting, smoking or shooting up drugs doesn’t mean we can’t fall victim to overdose with our pharmaceutical helpers.